Sunday, December 28, 2008

Orange Chicken

After growing up in a land where every menu includes Chicken Manchurian, Sweet Corn-Chicken soup and Chopsuey, the Chinese food here in the US was a little bit of a let down. Sitting in my sad little student apartment in Syracuse, I could only dream about having a piping hot bowl of sweet corn chicken at the Pune University fountain or a spicy plate of Chicken Manchurian at the Oriental Room on Karve Road. I did find some relief in form of Chinese food in the most unlikely of places, the Carousel Mall. A seven-floored eyesore with a footprint of a ceiling fan that contained pretty much every store that could ever come from America’s flyover zones. You could buy a Macbook, a Midor Saw and some sexy lingerie, all under one roof. The food court stood on second floor of the mall with an gigantic old carousel, thus the name. The food court included all of America’s greatest names in generic mall food. Not to mention that fine family restaurant of silicone fitted spandex dolls, Hooters. On my first visit to the food court, as I was glancing over the uninviting food options, I came across the Manchu Wok. One of their offerings was orange chicken, which didn’t exactly blow my mind, nor does it come close to a piece of dry Manchurian, but it is a fitting choice when your other options are tasteless chicken with snow peas.
2 boneless Chicken breasts chopped into small pieces (not minced chicken)
1/2 cup All-purpose Flour (Maida)
1/4 teaspoon MSG (Ajinomoto)
1/4 teaspoon Pepper
1/2 tsp Orange Zest
Oil for frying
1 tsp chopped Garlic
3 tsp chopped Scallion (Spring Onion)
1 chopped chili
For Sauce
1/4 tsp grated Ginger
1 tbsp Sugar
1/4 Cornflour
1 Cup Orange Juice
1/2 tbsp Orange Zest
1 tsp Lemon Juice
1 tbsp Soya Sauce
3 tsp Butter
Mix flour, MSG, pepper and orange zest to 3/4th cup water and make it into a batter.
Add chicken and mix thoroughly
Heat oil in a wok and drop small dumpling sized balls of the battered chicken and fry till golden brown.
For sauce:
In a wok, melt the butter and add grated ginger and soya sauce
When the ginger sizzles add sugar, lemon juice and mix
Add orange juice and allow it to boil
Reduce the orange juice to 1/2 and add corn starch
Place aside

In a wok, take 1 tbsp of olive oil
Add garlic and chili
Add chicken balls and mix thoroughly
Add orange sauce and stir
Serve with brown rice.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Spicy Mango Avocado Sushi

Besides vacation, summer in Pune meant the mushrooming of Mango stalls pretty much everywhere there was space available. If one had a sky view, the entire city would look like it had a case of saffron coloured chicken pox with the abundance of mangoes everywhere. The Alphonso mango is the greatest fruit on the surface of this planet and the naysayers who pooh-pooh the notion just haven’t had one from Ratnagiri. Mango, the Alphonso Mango, especially remains by far my favourite food and I have tried to come up with recipes that use mango, even where it is not needed. We have recently embarked on a heart-friendly diet trying to cut a lot of the fat and sodium from our diet leaving me to find new ways of make food interesting and edible. The mango never fails to come to the rescue of such ambition and I have managed to forge a couple of good heart-friendly recipes. Here's one such triumph.

For Rice
3 cups cooked Brown Rice
3 tbsp Rice Vinegar
2 tsp sugar
Pinch of salt
Nori Wraps (Seaweed sheets)

For Filling
1 semi-ripe peeled Mango sliced into extremely thin julienne pieces
1 Carrot sliced as above
1 Cucumber (white part) sliced as above
1 Avocado sliced as above

For Sauce
Flesh of 1 ripe Mango
1/2” piece of Ginger
4 tbsp light Coconut Milk
Pinch of Chilli Flakes

Mix the vinegar, salt and sugar in a pot and heat on a low flame till the sugar dissolves and allow it to cool.
Spread the cooked rice while it is warm and gently flatten it
Drizzle the vinegar mixture on the rice and fold the rice to make sure the vinegar is spread evenly
On a Sushi mat place one Nori Sheet aligned with the edge of the mat
Cover the sheet with a very thin layer of rice
Place the sliced vegetables lengthwise parallel to the edge of the mat
Make the roll (Click here for video directions on making a roll)
Once the roll is done, cut into small pieces
To make the sauce, mix all ingredients and blend till it is a fluffy, homogenous mixture
Place a tiny dollop of sauce on each of the pieces
Serve with pickled ginger and wasabi

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cabbage Paratha

At the intersection of BMCC Road and Fergusson College Road stands Hotel Rangoli. A place that in all respects is pretty low key, tries too hard to be cool and for the most part, would not be missed if it ceased to exist. This is one of the third tier hotels in terms of places you want to be. If Vaishali is closed and Roopali is too crowded and you really want to eat, then Rangoli is a semi-decent option. It is also a great option if a young man has befriended a young woman whose entire family hangs out at Vaishali and the two lovebirds want to have a date, but not have the young man beaten to a pulp and at the same time have the illusion that they can express their love in public freely.... you get the idea. Rangoli's food, although pretty decent, tries to hard to be everything to everyone, but really doesn't do justice to any of it. I did spend a decent amount of time there in the days when Vaishali was undergoing reconstruction and the parathas there weren't bad. However, it failed to convert any real customers, myself included, during that period. I do fondly remember the parathas at Rangoli as that was the only thing that Vaishali didn't serve. And they were'nt bad. Of course, I haven't been there since Vaishali reopened in 1996 and that doesn't say a lot about Rangoli.

1 Cabbage finely chopped
1/2 tsp ginger paste
2 Green Chillies finely chopped
1/2 tsp Chili Powder
1 tsp Turmeric
Salt to taste
3 tbps cooking oil

Click here for dough recipe

In a wok heat the oil and add ginger paste.
Once the ginger starts for bubble add green chillies, turmeric and chili powder
Add cabbage and salt and toss
Cook on medium heat stirring occasionally till cabbage is fully cooked
Place aside and allow to cool fully

To make the paratha, take a golf ball sized ball of dough
Flatten and cup it
Put some cabbage in the cup and close the cup so that the cabbage is completely stuffed
Flatten the ball gently and roll it out into a flat paratha using hands of a rolling pin
Heat a skillet to high and put the paratha on the skillet
If the skillet is hot enough, no oil is required
Cook both sides evenly
Serve hot with yogurt and garlic chutney

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Citrus Beet and Fruit Salad

In Pune, there are two seasons; the one where you need rain gear and one where you don’t. Sure there are temperature variations throughout the year, but this is pretty much the only difference. Summer clothes are not that different than winter clothes, with the exception of a light sweater and I really don’t recollect there being a spring in Pune. It’s pretty much either hot or wet and the only seasonal touch to your wardrobe comes from a worn out jacket or sweater. Even after a decade here in New York, I am still not really used to the four specific seasons. Especially summer, which is so short here in the city. And even though we’re soon approaching the end of the fall season, I am still enjoying my summer salads.

2 Beets peeled and pressure cooked and cooled
1 Apple
1 Orange
1 Mango
4 Figs cut into quarters
Zest of one Orange
1 tsp Mint chopped
2 tbsp Orange Juice
3 tsp chopped Pecans

Cut the Beets, Apples and Mango into cubes and place in a bowl
Peel the orange, separate flesh from skins and add to bowl
Add figs, mint, orange zest and pecans to the bowl
Drizzle orange juice evenly
Toss the salad gently and serve

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Whole Wheat Pizza

In 1998 when Pizza Hut came to Pune it was greeted with the same kind of fanfare normally reserved by the Congress junta for Sharad Pawar’s motorcade. Residing on Jangli Maharaj road in a new construction built on the grave of a typical Puneri corner bungalow; Pizza Hut projected itself as an example of American fine dining. The Puneris ate it with a spoon, or by the slice to be precise. During the first few weeks, the line to get in was around the block. There was a host table outside the restaurant taking reservations. At the time the host had the same attitude as Sachin Tendulkar’s public relation’s manager. Everyone was apparently wasting his time and no one really seemed good enough to have a Pizza Hut slice. I, along with a few friends managed to get a table without waiting, as we knew “people”. Even at this low level of government, corruption did butt its ugly head. Once inside we were greeted with interior decoration that was trying too hard to be cool, arrogant waiters and lacklustre food. Once we placed the order, our waiter announced that the pizza would be ready in 37 min. One of my dining companion’s reminded the waiter that (in spite of it being Pizza Hut) we’re in Pune and they both knew that the 37 min means nothing, so he should just bring it when it comes out.” The food didn’t come out for a good 45 min. In the interim we were treated to an extremely embarrassing and poorly choreographed dance to the then popular song “Backstreet’s Back” courtsey of the Pizza Hut waitstaff who seemed just ashamed to be part of it. It was definite You Tube material. That was my first and last visit to any Pizza Hut, ever. To compensate, I have been experimenting at making pizza at home from scratch and getting somewhat successful at it.


For the base
5 cups Durum Wheat or Whole Wheat flour
2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 packets Yeast
1 cup tepid Water
2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp Cornmeal
Salt to taste

1 cup shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1 sliced Capsicum (Green Pepper)
1 cup sliced Mushrooms
1 sliced Onion
1 sliced Tomato
6 sliced Olives
1/2 cup sliced Chicken marinated in Salt and Pepper

Click here for the sauce recipe.

Add yeast and sugar to the tepid water, stir and place aside for 10 minutes
When the mixture doubles in volume, the yeast is active
Add the mixture to the flour along with olive oil and salt
Knead the mixture to a dough adding water as necessary
Place dough aside for a hour; the dough should double in size
Knead the dough again and leave aside for 15 min
On a greased pizza stone (or a large baking pan) spread cornmeal evenly
Toss the dough into a 12” round base and gently place on top of the corn meal
Spread 1/2 sauce evenly over the base all the way up to the edge
Spread cheese evenly on pizza
Add toppings making sure not to add too many
Pre-heat oven to 400º F
Place pizza stone on centre rack
Bake pizza till edges of the base appear deep brown
Serve with red pepper flakes

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Happy Diwali

Here's wishing you and yours a very happy Diwali and a prosperous New Year.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fire Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Halloween Soup

When I was still a youngster back in India, we learned everything there was to know about American culture from those American Culture for Dummies books a.k.a Archie Comics. I first learnt of Halloween in Archie Comics as a holiday, which involved costumes, and hitting the neighbours for cheap candy like it was a right. Archie Comics in all their PG-ness never really mentioned two really important aspects of Halloween (or what Archie and Veronica really did at Lover’s Lane). They never really covered the part where it is the one day where girls can dress in their skimpiest, something the male junta does not seem to mind. I for one encourage freedom of expression. The other aspect of this dentist’s dream holiday that remained unexplained was the pumpkin connection wherein pumpkin based recipes are dumped on the general public during this period, never to be heard of for the rest of the year. Recently my wife cooked me a delicious soup with a recipe inspired by Souvlaki for the Soul. Here it is with a Halloween twist.

6 large Tomatoes cut in half
1-2 red Red Peppers, quartered
1 tsp Balsamic Vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
2 Garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 Potato, peeled, roughly chopped
1 red Chili finely sliced
2 cups Vegetable Stock
1 tsp Tomato paste
1/2 cup Basil leaves
6 bowl sized Pumpkins

Set your oven to broil
Place the tomatoes and capsicum in a baking dish
Sprinkle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic and salt and pepper
Roast for about 45 min or until tender till tomatoes and peppers are soft
Add some olive oil to a pan and fry the chili
Add the stock, the potatoes and the tomato paste
Bring to the boil and then lower the heat
Cook for about 10 min or until the potatoes are tender
Once cooked, remove the pot off the heat and set aside.
Your tomatoes and capsicums should be ready about now
Remove from the oven and add them to the potato mixture.
Add the basil
Blend the soup to desired texture
Serve in a hollowed out pumpkin

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Kala Chana Saag

On my visit back to Pune, I noticed that Main Street in Camp looks nothing like the one I used to remember. Of course, when I still lived there, it bore no resemblance to the Main Street of when I was a little kid. There were a couple of stores I remember vividly. Toy Center, one would think, as the name suggests would be a Toy Shop. However pestonji logic dictated that the store be half pharmacy, a quarter electrical appliance store with some toys behind the counter. Thus the name. There were the usual Marzorin, Budhani, Wonderland and other Camp staples. One place, however, where they still don’t seem to get with the fact that it is 2008, is Monafood. The weirdly designed restaurant was divided into 3 levels from the street. The outermost served Softee ice cream. The next level in was the juice bar. And the third level in from the street was the actual restaurant. Complete with discoloured Formica tables and waiters who bring you your water in steel glasses with their fingers in it. I never knew what the complete Monafood menu except that they had one, because the only reason you’d go to there was the Chana Bhataura. The most delicious bowl of spicy chana with long a green chili sticking out of it, surrounded be a juicy wedge of lemon and a couple of slices of onion. All placed next to the fluffiest, puffiest bhataura you’ve ever seen. It has been almost 30 years since I have been to Monafood, but I every time I eat chana bhataura, I can help but compare it to the Monafood one and thankfully, none has even come close.

2 cups Black Chana soaked overnight.
1 large Tomato chopped
2 Onions chopped
1 bunch Spinach finely chopped
1 tbsp Oil
2 tsp Garam Masala
1 tsp Chili
1 tsp Turmeric powder
1/2 tsp Cumin seeds
4 tsp chopped Cilantro
1 tsp grated fresh Ginger
1 tsp fresh Garlic paste

Heat oil in a wok and add ginger and garlic
Add onions and stir till brown on the edges
Add tomato and allow it to cook for a few minutes
Add Garam Masala, turmeric, salt and chilli and mix thoroughly
Add Spinach and allow it to cook
Add Chana and stir till it is mixed in properly
Add 2 cups water and allow it to cook
Keep adding water till Chana is completely soft and cooked

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Kayani Bakery and the Mawa Cake.

Whenever we had guests visiting us from out of town they had things they needed to do, places they had to visit and certain things they absolutely had to take back. One of these that came under all three categories was a visit to the Kayani Bakery on East Street in Camp. If you are a visitor to Pune and you return home without a bag containing a Kayani cake, a box of Shrewsbury biscuits and a bag of wine biscuits, it is safe to say you’d be in the doghouse for at least a week. The Kayani bakery has been a Pune landmark since it was established by brothers Hormuz and Khodayar Irani in 1955. The Shrewsbury biscuit, which is Kayani’s flagship product, is quite possibly the most delicious biscuit you will ever eat. Just opening the pink box to reveal the line of biscuits embossed with the KB logo is a near orgasmic experience. But dipping it in tea and eating is like an orgy in your mouth that will definitely take you there. A Kayani product will never fail to put you in a great mood. After all, most of their products are essentially tons of butter and sugar with barely enough flour to hold it all together. But no one does it better than Kayani. The other notable Kayani product is the Mawa cake. A ten inch button of goodness wrapped in a line of butter paper, it melts in your mouth and requires extreme amounts of will power to not polish it off in one sitting. There’s not a household in Pune that doesn’t have a Kayani product in their pantry at any given time. And with the outside chance one does come across such a household, the goodies are probably in their bellies, which mean that it’s time to go to East Street and stand in line for some more.

1 cup Unsalted Butter (softened)
1 1/4 cups granulated Sugar
4 Eggs
1 tbsp Vanilla
2 cups all purpose Flour (maida)
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Salt
1/3 cup Milk

Pre-heat oven to 350º F
Beat butter in a large bowl till soft and fluffy
Add sugar and beat till fluffy (about 4 min)
Add eggs 1 at a time and keep beating making the batter as fluffy as you can
Stir in vanilla and milk
Sift flour, baking powder and salt into the batter and continue to beat until blended completely
Grease a baking pan with butter and spread the batter evenly
Bake for exactly 1 hr and 5 min (Or until it passes the toothpick test)
Remove from oven and allow it to cool for 10 min
Invert pan to release cake on to serving dish

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Spinach Paratha and a Balanced Breakfast

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. In Pune, however, breakfast almost seems to be a second thought. It’s something you do between getting dressed for work or school and leaving the house. I for one have been brought up on a steady breakfast of Carbury’s drinking chocolate (the one that came in the blue tin) and Britannia Nice biscuits. (Hello diabetes!) Shoving the biscuits in my mouth and washing it down with chocolate milk hot enough to take the top layer off your gullet. All this mostly while the school bus would stand outside honking the horn and my mother, trying in vain, to ask the driver to wait just one more minute till her son got his shit together. Unfortunately, no matter how old you get or where you go in the world, breakfasts might change, but the chaotic morning scene remains the same. On the weekends however, we try to bring back some sanity to our lives and what better way to start than with a healthy, hearty sit-down breakfast.

3 cups Atta (Durum Wheat Flour)
3 cups Spinach (very finely chopped)
1 tbsp Oil
1 tsp Coriander Powder
1 tsp Cumin Powder
3 Green Chilies finely chopped
1/4 tsp Hing (Asafoetida Powder)
1/2 tsp grated Ginger
Salt to taste
Tepid Water (to make dough)

Chop the spinach very finely in the same way you would chop coriander
Add all ingredients except water and oil to the flour and mix thoroughly
Add water and oil and knead to form a nice ball of dough
Place aside for an hour covered with a damp cloth
Take a golf ball sized piece of dough and roll it into a thin paratha
Heat a skillet and turn the gas on high
If skillet is hot enough, no oil is needed to cook the paratha
Place the paratha on the skillet
Cook paratha on both sides
Serve hot, or wrap in a cotton cloth and place in an airtight container to maintain softness

For a balanced breakfast, serve:
2 parathas, 1 boiled egg, fresh fruit or fruit juice

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Healthy Apple Dumpling

The Osho commune is the brainchild of "Rajneesh" Chandra Mohan Jain and self-proclaimed “Bhagwan”. The spectacular commune looks more like a spa or resort than a religious center complete with waterfalls, exotic flora and fauna and bold architecture. And the beautifully landscaped Osho Park created out of a swamp is just breathtaking. Bhagwan Rajneesh was infamous for his teachings as they encouraged communal sexual indulgence. Here’s a man who took the bumper sticker “Make love, not war” a bit too seriously and turned it into a religion. I for one totally support such thinking.

Osho ashram has brought a lot of good things to Koregaon Park. The best thing to happen to Koregaon Park as a result of the ashram, however, is the German Bakery. Situated right on the entrance to Koregaon Park, it looks like a beach shack situated on a main road. Although from the name, you’d think they serve German snacks, it is still Pune city, and the menu is a mish-mash of anything goes. On my first encounter with the German Bakery, I felt totally out of place amongst the beaded, orange robed, Rajneesh firangs. I had my first Apple Danish Pastry at the German Bakery. “This is a really stupid pattice” I remember my cousin remarking. Clearly, the place was not meant for vada-pav morons like yours truly. Looking back, it was actually quite delicious if you weren’t expecting to bite into a spicy pattice. I went back a few more times and have fond memories of the German bakeries. I thought I’d treat my wife by recreating the taste with a slightly healthier version (by replacing the butter pastry shell with a healthy dumpling wrapper and boiling it).

3 Apples peeled and diced into small pieces
½ tsp Cinnamon Powder
¼ tsp Nutmeg
3 tsp sugar
1 cup Water
Wonton Wrappers (or extremely thin flour rotis)

Add apples, sugar, water, cinnamon and nutmeg to the pot and boil on medium flame
Boil till apples are cooked and all the water has been absorbed
Allow the mixture to cool
Place a wonton wrapper on a sheet or a dumpling press and wet one side
Place 1 tsp apple mixture in the centre of the wrapper and close the dumpling making sure there are no air pockets
Make dumplings and place aside
Bring a pot of water to a boil
Add 6-8 dumplings to the pot and allow them to boil for no more than 3 minutes
Scoop dumplings from the water with a holed spoon and onto a plate
Drizzle honey and cinnamon
Serve hot

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Masoor Amti

"Panchang, menu, arogya, dnyana, 
Upayukta sahitya pratyeka paana."

The radio ad for Kalanirnay promised more crap than 16 years in school can throw at you. Kalanirnay is a calendar that most Indian housewives cannot live without. It is published in 13 different languages and contains just as much useless information on the calendar side as it does on the back pages. The 3 sq inch space for each day includes information on solar and lunar cycles, any insignificant holiday that might fall on this day (complete with obscure illustrations) and most importantly for the three people who understand what it is, concise information on ‘Rahukal’. The backside of the month’s page is where the real fun stuff is. Redundant information relating to the month, including medical advice, puzzles, religious information, recipes and lessons in arts and crafts etc. printed in 7 point, blue type are what make up the backside. I have never visited a house in Pune without a Kalanirnay on the kitchen wall, and I have never seen anyone actually refer to the back pages. I, too, have Kalnirnay in my apt as I can’t really visualize the month without mentally putting it into the pale yellowness of the Kalanirnay grid. Recently, I decided to check out the back pages of the one on my wall. It does have a lot of information about stuff you never cared about. I did however find this awesome recipe for Masoor chi Amti. I guess I should flip the page more often.

"Bhinti vaari Kalanirnay asave"

2 cups sprouted Masoor (Red Lentils)
1 Onion chopped
½ tsp Chili powder
½ tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Maharashtrian Goda Masala
3 tsp Cilantro chopped
3 tbsp Olive Oil
1 cup Water
Salt to taste
Heat oil in a wok
Reduce to medium heat once hot and add onion.
Fry onions till translucent, tender and brown on edges
Add chili, turmeric and goda masala and allow it to cook for a minute or two
Add masoor, cilantro and salt and allow it to cook for a few minutes
Add water and allow it to boil for a 10 minutes on medium heat with the lid on till masoor is cooked
Serve with hot chapati or rice and yogurt

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tomato Soup

Before the ‘spectacular’ express highway, the cheapest and most convenient way to make a Bombay-Pune journey was with a ride on the Deccan Queen. A 180 km journey that took anywhere between 3½ - 4 hours on a good day. The journey would actually begin way before the day of actual travel by a trip to a little place known as the booking office. A small self-standing structure in the middle of nowhere, where you were served by indifferent civil servants from behind rusty windows. Some of the things you were never served, however, were proper information, prompt service or, heaven forbid, a smile. The chances of you actually getting a reservation instead of being wait-listed were pretty slim. Even as you enter Pune Station through parking, it looks like a haphazard mess. As you arrive inside you see that the rails and platforms thrown together by some eager engineer who made the mistake of believing himself. 6:30 a.m. is probably the most bearable time to be there, as people who fell asleep on the platform the night before aren't completely awake yet.

Once on the Deccan Queen, things are pretty smooth sailing, if you accept all things as they are. No sooner has the train crossed city limits, somewhere around Talegaon, the waiter comes by to take your breakfast order. One thing that has always impressed me about the railway food service on Indian Railways is the waiters. They manage to take down the order of an entire car of over 100 people without writing anything down and then bring you your entire order without screwing anything up. Of course it helps that there are only a couple of items on the menu. Omelet bread, which consists of two slices of bread and an omelet bathed in a stream of pure fat. A cheese toast (pronounced chis-toz), which strangely is neither cheese, nor toast and of course there was the usual tea or coffee. The other thing on the menu was the tomato soup; a thin, thimble-sized plastic cup of foaming brownish-red goodness. This was quite possibly the most vile tasting (and smelling) version of the soup and one can only conclude that it came out of one of those Nestlé machines. Not that it ever stopped anyone from ordering one. Coz’ nothing says good morning in the Sayadhris like instant soup and flirting with the langoors on monkey hill.

  • 6 Tomatoes (medium size)
  • 1 Beet
  • 1 tsp Butter
  • ½ tsp Black Pepper
  • ½ tsp Cumin Powder
  • 1 tsp Ginger Garlic Paste
  • 4 tsp Heavy Cream
  • Salt to taste
  • Boil tomatoes and beet in water for 15 min till tomatoes appear completely boiled.
  • Allow it to cool and then blend the tomatoes and beets together to a puree
  • Using a sieve strain the seeds and skin and place the juice aside
  • In a pot heat the butter and add ginger-garlic paste, cumin and pepper to it
  • Once the ginger-garlic paste sizzles, add the tomato juice and allow it to cook for 10 min
  • Serve hot and garnish with heavy cream and mint

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Boneless Butter Chicken

When I was in junior college, Pirangut (which is now almost in city limits) used to be a destination for day trips. En route, one could drive for miles of lush paddy fields and open land on both sides of the road, the monotony broken only by a lake, a river or the occasional small body of water. You would have to slow down sometimes as herds of sheep walked alongside the road, blocking most of it. Village folk sat under the shade of tamarind trees waiting for the greatest form of rural transportation—the S.T. bus, known to most of the junta as the Laal Dabba (red tin can). The road took you straight to the village of Mulshi, where the Mulshi dam is located. There is a village on the way named Disli. In Marathi, Disli means “I see it.” The reason it is so named is that as you take a turn to enter the limits of Disli, you can see the walls of the massive dam for the first time. Just before the village of Disli is the village of Pirangut and also the home of one my favourite joints, Buninda Dhaba. It had just opened up when we started visiting Buninda. It was essentially a poorly built structure with a huge swimming pool, a garden restaurant, a children’s playground that would require tetanus shots and for some reason, a large number of ducks just hanging out. It was a nice place to go to, especially when parents thought you were busy at college busy attending classes and getting a good education. The food there was always good. However, as college students, money was always in short supply and the newly liberated college students would prefer to allocate more funds to spirits than waste it on food. After a good afternoon of drinking when it’s time to eat, it is common practice to order a couple of pots of boneless butter chicken with a stack of rotis. Thankfully, the butter chicken at buninda was exceptional.

1 1/2lb whole boneless Chicken breast cubed
1 large Onions finely chopped.
2 Tomatoes finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 stick butter
1 tsp grated Ginger
1 tsp crushed Garlic
1 tsp Chili powder
1 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Garam Masala
1 1/2 cup Chicken stock
Salt to taste

For marinade
1/2 cup Buttermilk
2 tsp Lemon Juice
2 tsp Ginger Garlic paste
1 tsp Chili powder
1 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Garam Masala
Salt to taste

Mix all the items for the marinade and coat the chicken with it.
Allow it to marinate overnight.
Grill chicken till it is done and the marinade crisp.
Remove chicken in a bowl and place aside.

Heat 1/2 stick of butter in a pot and add ginger and garlic to it.
Add chopped onions and stir occasionally till onion is translucent brown on the edges.
Add tomato, stir and allow to cook for a few minutes
Add chili, turmeric, garam masala and salt, stir and allow to cook for a couple of minutes
Add chicken stock and bring to a boil and continue heating on low heat till tomato and onion have almost dissolved.
Remove sauce and blend it in a blender with heavy cream
Return sauce to the pot and gently fold in the grilled chicken and the remaining butter and allow it to cook on low heat for 10-15 min
Serve with rice and naan

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Green Mango Chutney

As a little boy growing up in Pune, I became aware of the fact that the raw green mango (kairi) and the deliciously sweet, ripe mango in spite of being the same fruit are completely different animals. I also understood that a mango stolen from someone else’s yard tastes infinitely better than a store bought mango. It is popular knowledge that the best green mangoes inevitably come from the trees that are in the yards of the meanest people in the neighbourhood. These trees are usually guarded by some of the house’s senior gentry, who will come after you with sticks—making stealing mangoes from the neighbourhood one of my favourite summer sports.

After the annual examinations in April one quickly discovers that two months of summer vacation is in fact really boring. During our vacation, the area kids would gather to pass their afternoons with a game of cricket, carrom or cards. A good afternoon’s cricket is really incomplete without a good snack and the raw mangoes that were in peak season spiced with salt and chili filled that void very well. Stealing mangoes is a group effort and confidence in a solitary attempt is a rookie mistake. Good bicycles with a carrier capable of going “double seat” are also an integral part of the mango stealing operation. Three is the perfect number of people needed to steal mangoes. One to climb the tree, one to stand under it, catch the loot and assist in the getaway and the third one near the compound wall to keep watch and relay information with fake coded animal sounds that don’t even come close to the real thing. The third one also keeps the getaway bicycles ready. Since there has rarely been an attempt where the owner of the property didn’t come after you, most operations yield varied results and thus require multiple attempts on various yards. Regardless, the mango stealing exercise is a large part of the summer vacation and one I miss dearly.

Here are some rules of successful mango stealing that can never be ignored:

  • Never climb so high that you won’t be able to directly jump to the ground if and when needed
  • Sticks, hooks, bags only get in the way, throw the mangoes directly to the person on the ground.
  • No matter how awesome the mango, don’t select the tree that is closer to the house than the fence
  • Before the operation begins, locate a spot in the barbed wire fence that is either easy to jump over or has a huge hole
  • Do not underestimate a bogan-villa plant that doubles as a fence
  • Angry, old people can run faster than you think
  • Always locate a compound where the owners may or may not know you, but they most definitely don’t know your parents

1 large Raw Mango (peeled and cubed)
1/2 cup shredded fresh Coconut
1/2 cup Cilantro
2 cloves Garlic
3 Green Chilies
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp sugar (Only if the mango isn’t sweet)
1/2 cup

Put the cilantro at the bottom of the blended and then add the rest of the ingredients on top
Blend to a smooth mixture

Mango Chutney Sandwich
Apply mango chutney to one slice of whole grain toast
Apply sour cream to another slice and create a sandwich
Serve as a snack.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Crispy Mint Lamb Chops

This is the story of how yours truly was involved in an incident that almost closed down Residency Club. In the summer of 93 I started what was my first job, an internship at an industrial design firm in our building. One of the assignments I was working on was to build a permanent Mandap for Residency Club. Back then; Residency club was a newer, cheaper alternative to Poona Club and the Royal Connaught Boat Club. Mr. Tanna, the owner of Residency Club had solicited the help of Blueprint Design to build a permanent Mandap over a courtyard that was surrounded by rooms for club guests, so that he could rent the courtyard for functions even during monsoons. Blueprint design had delivered a highly futuristic concept for a Mandap using a tensile structure. Tensile structures are made of strong sheets of synthetic fibers stretched and held together with tension wires. Blueprint design had come up with a design that worked really well in theory. If all went well, this would cover an area of over 20,000 sq ft with columns only on the periphery. It was sometime in May and the summer had almost come to an end. The mangoes were already in their second harvest. We employed a large crane to hoist the heavy fabric in place and all the wires were put in place. By this time it was 6:00 p.m. and the only thing left to do was to apply tension to the wires and make the fabric taut. It was a couple of hours of work, so the team decided to call it a day and complete it all next morning. Mr. Tanna looked happy with the result and invited us have some drinks poolside. It was a lavish affair with some nice finger foods. The best dish in the spread was crispy lamb chops. I couldn’t recall any other restaurant that had lamb chops on the menu, so it was quite a thrill. On our way back home we saw some rather ominous looking clouds gather, but didn’t think much of it. Looked like your average pre-monsoon shower. It rained rather heavily that night. It was the kind of storm where you are almost OK with the powers that be turning the electricity off for an extended period of time. The rains had made the air cooler so I didn’t mind sleeping without air conditioning as I was already in a lamb-induced coma. Meanwhile back at the Residency club, the rains that had fallen on the loose fabric had started to create ponds in the air and continued till it became one 8 ft deep gigantic body of water floating in the air 25 feet above ground. Finally, it grew to a size where the fabric and the trusses could no longer hold it and it gave way flooding all the rooms around it and partially drowning some. Thankfully, there were some minor injuries and no lives were lost. Early next as we went to check the damage it looked like a post-Katrina scene. I was just surprised that no one got arrested for neglect. Blueprint design had to rebuild the entire thing out-of-pocket and suffered heavy losses. As eventful as the night was, being a true foodie, the most memorable part for me was still the lamb chops.


12 Lamb Chops
3 tsp chopped Cilantro
1 tsp chopped Mint
2 Green Chilies, chopped
2 tbsp Ginger Garlic paste
½ cup Buttermilk
Salt to taste

To cook
½ cup Oil
½ tsp Chili Powder
½ tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Garam Masala

Blend together all the ingredients for the marinade and apply to the lamb chops.
Allow it to marinate for at least 3 hours. Preferably overnight.
In a flat pan heat oil
Once oil is hot, turn heat to medium
Add Chili powder turmeric, and garam masala to oil and mix completely with the oil
Lay 4 lamb chops flat turning them every couple of minutes
Cook till the surface is crisp and golden brown
Serve with Yoghurt Mint Chutney

Friday, July 25, 2008

Medu Wada with Green Chutney

In 1996 the owner of Hotel Vaishali, Jagannath B.Shetty, decided it was time to renovate. This was mostly to tackle the problem of vagabonds that occupied tables for long periods of time by ordering just coffee or tea and spent that time ogling at the honeys from nearby colleges. The brilliant solution to this problem was creating a small smoking section where the lallygagging, leering, permanent fixture like customers would be reassigned. Actual paying customers could then use the rest of the busy hotel. As a result, Mr. Shetty closed Vaishali for 3 months. People like myself and the rest of the collegiate crowd found themselves completely lost and had to find a place to park themselves for those meaningful hours between breakfast and lunch. Or what is known in college as the first four classes. Anyone who has gone to college in India knows that while it is essential to be enrolled in a top-notch college, attending classes is for losers. In desperation we turned to the few acceptable eateries around the area and thanks to Jagannath Shetty’s decision, they also did a fair amount of business during these three months. Some people including yours truly gravitated towards Hotel Savera. Savera is situated right opposite Fergusson College’s main gate, but its real selling point was the proximity to the Fergusson Women’s hostel. Savera’s South Indian food was not really that bad, but it will never compare to Vaishali. They did serve a few things that Vaishali didn’t. Like puri-bhaji and a few parathas. The one thing that I always ordered was the wada sambhar—it wasn’t bad. By the end of the third month I was actually getting quite fond of Savera. But then Jagannath Shetty opened the doors to the new and improved Vaishali. All the surrounding restaurants that had enjoyed good business during this time were almost empty. The Vaishali parking was full that day and I parked my Kinetic Honda close to Savera, but walked to Vaishali. Because although Savera was nice, it’s no Vaishali. But then again, what is? Ask any Puneite and you’ll get the same answer. There’s no substitute.

2 cups Urad Dal (Black Lentils)
½ cup Rice
1/s tsp cracked Pepper
1 tsp Ginger
3 tbsp grated or chopped Coconut
Salt as per taste
Oil for deep-frying

Soak dal and rice over night in separate containers
Grind the dal and rice separately
Mix the two pastes
Add pepper, ginger, coconut and salt
Heat 2 1/2 cups of oil in a wok
With a Medu Wada maker drop doughnut like wadas directly into the hot oil
(If you don’t have a wada maker you can also drop 1 tbsp batter at a time using a tablespoon”
Deep fry till golden brown
Serve with coconut chutney or raw mango chutney.

Click here for Green Chutney Recipe
Click here for Green Mango Chutney Recipe

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Vegetable Korma

Once upon a time Pune was a small town with cute little houses. The traffic was manageable. The air was breathable air. And roads had no dividers. Fergusson college road was a beautiful street lined with Banyan trees and pretty much everything else was hunky dory. Much unlike the awful shit storm that FC Road has become today. A few things however have remained unchanged there. One of them, much to my delight, is a restaurant called Amrapli. As far back as I can remember, Amrapali was the place to go to for vegetarian fare. It is located off Fergusson College Road at the end of an access road right behind Hotel Roopali. It is very easy to miss as the only indication is a beaten up cantilevered neon sign, which must’ve worked at some point in time. A bicycle repair shop on one side and a scooter garage on the other guard the entrance to the access road. The entrance also featured a Lambretta, which I guess no one had claimed for decades, rusted and sunk half way into the ground. The left side of the access road was lined with custard apple trees and a moss covered wall, which seemed like it could collapse if someone broke wind and the right moment. The road itself, partially lined with Shahabad tiles, is an abandoned, half-hearted attempt at making it into a permanent road. While all these add charm to Amrapali, the restaurant itself is pretty lavish. The staff is courteous and the food delicious. They serve mostly vegetarian Punjabi food and the odd attempt at a vegetarian Chinese dish (which is usually quite tasty, just not Chinese). My favourite food there was the veg-korma, an artery clogging vegetarian feast. Amrapali has lost its attraction in recent years with the expansion of Pune city and the mushrooming of hundreds of other ‘me too’ restaurants. But most will remember it as one of the best vegetarian restaurants in Pune.

3 tbsp Olive Oil
1 large Onion chopped
2 Tomatoes chopped
1/2 tsp Ginger (ground to a paste)
1/2 tsp Garlic crushed
1/2 cup Cashew Paste
1/4 cup heavy Cream
1 tsp Garam Masala
1/2 Tsp Chili powder
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1 Carrot chopped
1/2 cup Green Peas
1 cup Capsicum
1/2 cup Cauliflower florets
1/2 cup fried Paneer Cubes
1/2 cup chopped Mushrooms
Salt to taste

Heat a pot and add oil to it.
Sauté the garlic and ginger and add onion.
Stir the onion and heat till translucent and brown on the edges
Add tomato and allow to cook for a few minutes
Add Turmeric, Garam Masala and Chili Powder and stir
Add Cashew Paste and mix thoroughly
Allow it to cool and then blend the mixture into a fine paste
Transfer contents back to the pot and turn heat to medium
Add vegetables and Paneer cubes and allow to simmer for 15 min
Garnish with grated fresh Paneer and serve with Nan or Basmati rice.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What is the difference between a Sauté and a Stir-fry?

Recently, I visited one of my favourite Thai restaurants, Pongsri, in New York. One of our mutual friends found two items on the menu that looked exactly the same with similar ingredients. The only difference was that one was sautéed and the other one was stir-fried. She asked me what the difference was and it was something I had never thought about. Does anyone know?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Sabudana Khichadi

Appa is a word for father in many Indian languages. But for a true Punekar, there is only one ‘Appa’ and he owns the canteen that is part of the Deccan Gymnkhana, nestled snugly in a tiny lane between the cricket ground and the tennis courts, at the Eastern end of the long billiards hall. Appa’s canteen needs no introduction as it has been in the same spot since days of the Raj. A humble place made up of one small room divided into two tiny sections, the dining area and the kitchen. There is usually a machine making some sort of batter in the door between the kitchen and dining area. The dining area seats 8 people at a time. As a result most of Appa’s goodies are consumed out on the street on the back seat of a scooter or car. Appa’s canteen boasts a minimal menu of 3-4 dishes a day and menu items are set by the day of the week. Only a true Puneri can recite the menu by what day it is. If it’s Sunday, this must be idli-sambar. Some of the most famous items on this menu are idli sambar, kanda poha and khichadi kakadi. Appa, a man with a cheery disposition and skin darkened by years under the Indian sun always greets his customers with a smile and is on a first name basis with almost everyone who visits. His pajamas and ‘bandi’ which once used to be white are a trademark as is his checkered shirt which usually hangs on a ‘khunti’ on the wall. His generously proportioned son, Shree, now manages the 6’ X 6’ kitchen where 3 other cooks manage not only to stand with him, but cook delicious meals as well. Shree’s rusty old Java motorcycle is another permanent fixture right front of the door of the canteen occupying just as much space as him. One may notice soaked Sabudana being aired in the sun on the seat of the Java. Appa’s canteen has stood the test of time as well as the great flood of Pune in 1962. One of the most charming aspects of Appa’s canteen is the rusty Coca-Cola sign that remained there through the flood, and even after coke was asked to leave India. I visited Appa a few months back on my trip to Pune and the Coke sign was still standing strong. As humble as this little canteen is, it boasts some of India’s most famous sons as its patrons including Sunil Gavaskar and Raja Paranjpe. In the ever changing landscape of Pune, there a are few things that have stayed the same since the time of my grandfather. Appa’s canteen has been one of them. And all three living generations of my family will swear by one dish—Appa’s Khichadi Kakadi.

More about Appa.


1/3 cup Ghee
2 cups Sabudana / Sagoo (unsoaked)
4-5 Chillies (chopped)
3/4 cup roasted Peanut
1/2 tsp Cumin Powder
Cilantro / Coriander chopped
1 medium sized Potato (peeled and chopped)
I tsp Sugar
Salt to taste

Ingredients for Cucumber Raita
1 cup Yogurt
1 large Cucumber (peeled and chopped)
1/2 cup ground roasted Peanut
1/2 tsp Mustard Seeds
1/2 tsp Cumin Seeds
Pinch of Asafoetida
2 tbsp Oil
1/2 tsp Sugar
Salt to taste.


Soak Sabudana overnight* and make sure it is soft to the centre.
In a deep pot heat the ghee on medium heat and add the chillies and cumin powder.
Add potatoes and stir till they look cooked.
Add soaked sabudana, peanuts, cilantro, sugar and salt.
Fold the ingredients together so it is completely mixed.
Put a lit on it and let it cook in the steam.
When the sabudana is hot, Khichadi is done.

Cucumber Raita
In a bowl, mix cucumber, peanuts, yogurt sugar and salt.
In a small pan heat oil and ass Asafoetida, mustard seeds and cumin.
Remove from heat when the mustard seeds begin to pop.
Pour this mixture over the cucumber and mix well.

Serve hot Khichadi with Raita or Plain Yogurt.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


On returning to New York as a married couple, our ‘gruha pravesh’ involved pushing huge suitcases packed to the maximum allowable baggage allowance across the threshold. The only way a true desi travels and something I just can’t explain to my wife. I’m still on a high from all the pampering a prodigal son gets on his brief, infrequent visits home. The trick however is the leave before the novelty wears off. Now back in my apartment, as I was having my Sunday morning chai, I looked at my Nice biscuits (my favourite biscuits), which has turned limp from moisture as they were pretty old. Quite a contrast to the Sunday mornings back home.

When I lived in Pune, the family of one of the boys that worked for us lived in Tulsibaug. Although he lived with us all week, he would visit his family every weekend, leaving on Friday evening and returning early morning on Sunday. One of his most important duties (at least according to me) was to go to Hindustan Bakery on the way back and pick up a Kg of Khari, cream rolls and the legendary Hindustan Pav, all while they were still hot. He’d be home with the goodies, just in time for Sunday morning tea with a crisp copies of Times of India, Sunday edition and of course, Sakal.

If any one from Pune doesn’t know Hindustan Bakery (which would be quite sad), it’s the bakery that provided all the other bakeries in Pune with that ambiguous, yet delicious bread wrapped in unbranded brown paper and white thread. It was in essence a loaf of sourdough bread, neatly sliced and best if consumed with Mutton Rassa. This bread remained unbranded in brown paper for the better part of my life till others started passing their inferior bread as Hindustan bread. When they did start branding it, it was just a red, illegible, rubber stamp on the brown paper. Don’t you just love the Puneri arrogance and indifference? The original Hindustan Bakery located on Laxmi Road had some of the best bakery items that Puneites still swear by. Veg pattice, Khari (also pilachi khari), the strangely delicious bite sized cream rolls and of course the loaf of bread.

Khari and chai was a perfect start to most weekend mornings back home, but once I came to New York, it all but disappeared except for that sad excuse for Khari that Haldiram sells through Indian stores here. That was till discovered one of America’s greatest packaged inventions. Pepperidge Farms® Pastry Puff. And as much disdain I have for anything Pepperidge Farm, these artery clogging sheets of goodness have brought back the Khari back into my Sunday mornings. And of course giving my gori wife yet another reason the shake her head in disbelief.

1 sheet of Pepperidge Farms® Pastry Puff

Fold sheet in half making it double layered
Cut into 3” X 1” rectangular blocks
Pre-heat the oven and using good judgment, bake the bad boys as directed on the box till crisp and golden
Allow to cool and serve with hot Chai.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Wheat Crepe

So my girlfriend and I finally tied the knot with a small ceremony in Pune last week and flew straight to Jaipur for our honeymoon. My wife wanted to live in a small place with lots of character so anything with the name Taj, Oberoi or Sheraton was out. We found this small hotel, Hotel Palms that must’ve been someone’s residence at one point. It was one of those hotels where the owners lost interest in running it just as soon as they acquired it, giving it the right amount of character and ample scope for comic relief that we were looking for. It came with notable amenities such as mosquitoes, an internet café that was open only between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., a utilities shop that never opened the entire time that I was there and more staff than there were rooms none of whom were of any real help. On my first morning there, I woke up and ordered some tea. The tea came in a stained thermos with a jar of sugar cubes. The jar of sugar cubes had ants crawling all over the sugar. When I pointed this out to the barefoot waiter, he simply demonstrated the best way to get rid of the ants. Picking up the sugar cube, blowing on it and then directly tossing the cube in the tea. At this point I was looking more like the NRI arse hole who couldn’t deal with some ants than someone who wanted good service. My favourite part of the hotel, not surprisingly, was the restaurant. The Olives restaurant as it was called boasted an Indian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Italian and Continental menu. Pretty impressive I thought and then I was disillusioned by the pizza I ordered. It was made from readymade pizza base, Kissan sauce and Amul cheese product. There also was some dried fruit and nuts in the toppings. I have always been enamoured by the ability of Indians to take any dish and Indianize it instantly. My wife decided to go for the walnut and banana pancakes. I knew in the back of my mind that it was a bad idea, but I somehow wanted to see what came out of the kitchen. As I saw the waiter walking with our order towards us, I noticed that there wasn’t anything even slightly resembling a pancake on his tray. As he finally placed the ‘pancake’ on our table my American wife gave me a look that would make most Indians respond with the “hey, this is India” look. The pancake was a crepe made out of chapatti flour drowned in honey. The ‘pancake’ in spite of not being one, was extremely delicious and probably one of the healthiest versions of a crepe she had ever eaten. So in honour of my Rajasthani friends, here’s a recipe for the pancake/crepe that left my wife smiling for more reasons than one.

Some other menu translations at Hotel Palms
Hash browns or Home Fries = Potato subji.
Pizza = Bread base, topped with lots of stuff including nuts and dried fruits, Kissan ketchup and Amul Cheese.
Thai Spring Roll = Maggi Noodles in a spring roll
Mexican rice and beans = Rajma and Basmati rice

1 cup Chapati flour (Durum Wheat Flour)
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter (optional)
2 cups cut up Fruit

In a big bowl add the water, milk, salt and flour and whisk till it is completely mixed
Then add the eggs and whisk till it becomes a homogenous mixture.
Melt butter and mix it to the batter
On a non-stick skillet pout half cup of the batter
Turn the skillet to make spread it around and make a thin crepe
Place 2-3 tsp cut up fruit at the centre of the crepe and then fold the crepe over
Drizzle honey or powdered sugar over the crepe
Garnish with some more fruit and serve

Monday, April 21, 2008

Onion Uttapa

After my lackluster performance in my SSC exams I thought I had sealed my fate of getting into the prestigious science stream or even get in to a good junior college such as Fergusson. Of course, anyone from India knows that merit has absolutely nothing to do with what college you get into or pretty much anything you do in life. So through "family connections" I was granted a seat at Fergusson College in the science stream. In fact my parents went one up and secured me a seat in division D of the science stream. In Fergusson, divisions C and D were reserved for the smartest students. You know those really annoying, snooty kids whose lives revolve around books, coaching classes and HSC merit lists? All of my friends however, were placed in division F—the class that every teacher feared, the class that is made entirely out of students who have come there by all means except merit. Even the girls were a force to be reckoned with. As the FYJC year progressed, my misery in a class of the snooty kids grew and so did my absence from class. And I found solace in the greatest place on campus, the IMDR canteen. Situated between the Gokhale Institute, IMDR (Institute of Management Development and Research) and the Dept of Geography, this canteen served one of the happiest places on Campus. (Also a little weird was the fact that there was a geography building and it was so big.) This canteen was the place to be for the 'Lukhi Junta' of which I was a major member. The make up of the canteen was so weird that from the outside, it looked like caged hooligans enjoying cigarettes and tea. Tea served in the tiniest of chipped cups was just all you needed to wake up, a 2 ft peripheral wall that also served as part of the seating arrangement, dented and partially washed steel plates, a flimsy roof, creaky chairs and countless flies were all things that added charm to this place. In addition the waiter ability to never write down your order and still not fuck it up were pretty amazing. Not to mention that the hill behind the canteen looked like it would crash into the structure at any minute. The food at IMDR although fair, was not the main attraction of this establishment. It was more like you ate because that’s where you happened to be. Although the bun wada at the IMDR canteen remains legendary, it seems that the bun keeps getting bigger and the wada keeps getting smaller. Let’s just hope that the management allows the wada to catch up. Besides the bun-wada, there was a second item that they did really well. The onion utappa although vastly overshadowed by the bun wada was really good. Also served in a dented steel plate, the onion utappa, sprinkled with generous amounts of onion, coriander, green chili and a generous helping of white butter really held it’s own. I made many friends here and witnessed my teenaged friends inhale their first ‘Goldflake’ here, too. And although I’ll never remember this place for its food, it will always remind me of when I went to college, but didn’t quite get there.

Idli Batter 4 cups (click here for idli batter recipe)
1 onion finely chopped
½ cup Green Peas
2 Green chilies chopped
3 tsp Coriander finely chopped

Mix onion, peas and chili in the idli batter
Heat a skillet and spread ½ cup of the batter on it
Spread it as thin as possible
Drizzle ½ tsp oil on and around the dosa
Tilt the skillet so that oil spreads evenly on the edges
Allow it to cook till the top of the batter appears cooked
Flip dosa if you prefer both sides cooked
Serve with green chutney (Click here for recipe)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Kanda Poha

For many Puneites or Maharashtrians, a Poha Program is a running joke and for some a pretty hair- raising experience. For the non-Maharashtrians, a poha program is when a boy of marriageable age goes to a girl's house for the purpose of an arranged marriage with the decision makers of his family. Decision maker in this case may or may not include the two parties actually getting hitched. The meeting usually takes place in the evening hours. Somewhere around tea time, but much before dinner time. The most popular dish that is served at this time is Kanda Pohe. Very quick and easy to make, and really hard to screw up. And no matter who makes the Poha, it is always passed off as a shining example of the bride-to-be's many special talents. As for those of you guys who fell in love without first testing the poha-power of your bride to be, you can still fix a decent plate for yourselves. Here's how:

3 cups Thick Poha
1 large White Onion finely chopped
1 Potato cut into small pieces
3-4 Chillis each cut into 3-4 pieces
6-7 Curry Leaves (Kaddipatta)
1/2 tsp Mustard Seeds
3/4 tsp Sugar
3/4 tsp Turmeric
1/2 cup Cilantro chopped (Coriander)
1/2 cup oil
Salt to taste
1/2 cup Fresh Coconut shredded
1 Lemon cut into quarters

Soak Poha in a sieve and drench completely
Place it aside
Place oil in a deep pot on medium heat.
Add mustard seeds and curry leaves.
Once mustard seeds splatter add chili, onion and potato in that order
Cover with a lid stirring occasionally
When potatoes are cooked
Add Poha, turmeric, sugar, salt and coriander
Mix well, close lid
Cook for 4-5 min on medium heat stirring occasionally
Serve hot in a flat quarter plate with a slice of Lemon
Garnish with Coconut and Cilantro

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Khaman Dhokla

While the streets of London are paved with gold, the streets of Pune are lined with numerous non-descript halwais. Pretty much anything that is not a Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale, Karachi Sweet Mart or Kaka Halwai is a non-descript halwai. The one thing I like about these halwais is the layout of their stores. Barring the odd one that goes against the grain, pretty much all stores are rectangular with the shorter side serving as the storefront. All goods are behind a counter to one side of the store and the other half serving as ‘browsing area for the patrons. As you enter the store a mildly enthusiastic man imitating one of Henry Moore’s reclining sculptures greets you. He is usually the owner or at least the one in charge of the cash. Chances are, you’ll also be greeted with an insincere offer for some tea or coffee. You’re best advised not to accept, as it is quite an inconvenience for all parties concerned. Nod gracefully and move on. As you make your way into the store through the omnipresent swarm of flies you pass numerous brightly coloured sweets placed in perfect pyramids. Jarring yellow sev’s, saturated jalebis and many such delicacies. At about 3/4th of the length of the curved glass showcase you will come across a youth hanging out in a baniyan that once used to be white and way too enthusiastic for the job he is doing. These stores usually sell 3 kinds of foods—sweets made from milk and milk derivatives. Papdi, sev and fresh potato wafers (which are actually really good) and some hot snacks like Kachoris, Samosas and Khaman Dhokla. If you live in Pune and choose to buy your sweets from places other than Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale, Karachi Sweet Mart or Kaka Halwai there is something seriously wrong with you and you need to seek counsel soon. Budhani makes the best fresh wafers in Pune, but at the core they all taste pretty much the same. They key to a non-descript halwai’s success however is the hot foods like the samosa, kachoris and such. The khamang dhokla remains my favourite among the hot foods at these shops as you can never find it in a restaurant. For some reason it’s only available at these small in-between shops. In my Pune days, my high-school days actually, there was a small shop called Ummed at Dynaneshwar Paduka — a seedy looking joint by all standards, the kind girls think twice about stopping at; mostly because it is frequented by vagabonds such as myself. This Formica decorated store had enough mirrors to give you vertigo and had a thin layer of oil on pretty much every surface. But the man made a mean dhokla. Besides its proximity to my school and being on the way home there was nothing much worth mentioning about this store. As a 16 year old, my immune system was at its peak and could tackle any ‘extras’ this store threw at me. Especially, when they poked a hole with their thumbs in my kachori to make way for some chutney. I was addicted to the Ummed Dhokla drenched in tamarind chutney for many, many years. I’m not sure if Ummed has survived the latest spate of ‘development’ that Pune has gone through. Maybe a new building came up in its place and Ummed moved to new location; perhaps one with less mirrors, moderate Formica surfaces and store help with better laundry ethics.

2 cups Chickpea Flour (Besan)
1/2 cup Water
1 tsp Sugar
1 tsp Oil
Pinch of Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Turmeric
Juice from 1/2 Lemon
Salt as per taste

For Tadka (Tampering)
1/2 tsp Mustard seeds
1/2 tsp Asafoetida
1/4 tsp Cumin Seeds

For Garnish
2 tsp grated Fresh Coconut
2 tsp Cilantro

Mix all ingredients for Dhokla in a bowl and beat it with a whisk till the Besan is completely dissolved and doesn’t have any lumps.
Allow the mixture to sit for 10 min.
Pour the mixture in a lightly greased Dhokla tray.
Steam the tray for 15 min.
Mixture will rise and the surface will have a smooth skin.
Remove from heat after 15 min and allow the tray to cool.

In a small pan take 1 1/2 tbsp oil and place it on medium-high heat.
Add all Tadka spices and heat till mustard seeds start to crackle.
Pour the hot oil mixture over the Dhokla and spread it evenly with a spoon
Garnish with fresh coconut and cilantro.
Cut the Dhokla into 2” squares with a knife.
Serve with tamarind chutney.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Pani Puri

Saras Baug is quite possibly the biggest garden in Pune City. Together with the temple, the sad excuse for a zoo that is Peshwe Park and the open ground that is used for firework sales as well as India’s biggest classical music festival Savai Gandharva, Saras Baug could have it’s own pin code. My favourite part of Saras Baug is the Ganesh temple part. Situated on a small hillock and surrounded by an artificial moat it houses the beautiful Saras Baug temple at the summit. The moat is surrounded by hundreds of acres of lush green lawns and unimpressive yet charming topiary. When I used to go to Saras Baug for Chaturthi with my mother, I would notice many young couples taking care of business behind the trees. I guess it’s hard to ‘get a room’ when you’re living as a joint family in a tiny one bedroom flat. It was pretty amazing how everyone pretty much ignored the cuddling and fondling couples. The couples returned the favour by pretending no one else existed. Especially giggling, unsupervised brats. Children could waste hours feeding the guppies in the moats or trying to get extra Prasad from the priest. My other favourite part of Saras Baug were the chat vendors and no visit could be complete without begging your parents to take you for some good old pani puri or bhel. A pro knows to casually mention about it while entering the park. Nothing can be achieved if you ignore this little fact and start on the way out. You’ll be dragged straight to the car. The chat area is a long quarter mile stretch filled with chat, pav bhaji and milkshake vendors. It also included such breakthrough entertainment as shooting balloons with pellet guns. Actually, that was pretty much it. Everyone has a chat vendor they’re loyal to and ours was a stall by the name of Poonam Bhel. Complete with chipped plates, aluminium spoons, outdated movie calendars and turbid water that came through a tulshibaug style bucket with a tap, best used only for washing hands. I have never really had Pani Puri that stood above the rest, but eating it on that street brought it’s own flavour. As a returning emigrant, I probably will never dare to eat there on my short, infrequent visits. The memories however will serve me for the rest of my life.

1 pack Puris (available at any Indian store)
1 can Chickpeas
1/2 tsp Turmeric

For Pani Puri Water
2 tsp Tamarind paste
2 tsp Date paste
1” piece of Jaggery (1 tsp sugar if you can’t find Jaggery)
4 cups Water
4 tbsp finely chopped Cilantro
4 tbsp finely chopped Mint
1 tsp Cumin powder
1/2 tsp finely chopped Green Chili
Salt to taste (you can use Shendelon-Pandelon if you have it instead)

Heat a pot and cook the Chickpeas in 1/2 cup water with turmeric till all the water is gone.
Place aside
For the Pani Puri Water, heat the water and when it is warm add all the ingredients.
Turn off heat immediately. Do not cook.
Churn the Pani in a blender when it is cool.

To make the Pani Puri, take 5 Puris in a dish and poke a large hole on one side
Fill the Puri with a couple of chickpeas
And fill it with a little bit of Pani Puri Water.
Eat the whole puri.
When serving, serve Puris filled with chickpeas and Pani in a bowl.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Chicken Sheekh Kabab

Back in the 1970s in Pune, Borawke’s KuKu Ch Koo was the god of all things tandoori. It is still by far the tastiest tandoori chicken I have tasted in Pune. The first KuKu Ch Koo, and the only one I have ever been to, is situated on the Deccan end of JM Road. Nestled cozily between two sugarcane juice bars and directly opposite the P.M.T. bus depot it is at a prime location for the Deccan junta. The restaurant is very basic in design. It consists of two structures. A solitary concrete room is the management office. A shed opposite to it, open on all sides, houses the tandoor ovens. The rest of the restaurant is open to sky with seating consisting of cracked granite squares placed on cinder blocks for tables and plastic chairs around it. Hey, why waste on décor if they keep returning? The only way to tell the waiters from the general customer was the indifferent attitude, as they didn’t really have any uniform. Actually, KuKu Ch Koo was always self-service but there were always a number of waiters hanging out not really doing anything. There is a strong aroma or tandoori spices in the air. Almost enough to over power omnipresent the scent of low-grade diesel smoke from the poorly maintained P.M.T. buses. However, a meal sandwiched between the tandoori smoke on one side and diesel smoke on the other was quite delightful. Yours truly was a bit late jumping on the tandoori wagon and till the ripe old age of 10 abhorred anything tandoori. During my family’s many visits to KuKu Ch Koo, of which there were quite a few, it was slim pickings for those who didn’t eat tandoori. However, a little roll of meat known as the Sheekh Kabab came to the rescue till I was ready to take a leap into the world of tandoori.

1lb Boneless Chicken Breast (Lean lamb can also be used)
1 tsp Garlic Paste
1 tsp Ginger Paste
3 tsp Coriander finely chopped
3/4 tsp Chili Powder
1/2 tsp Hungarian Paprika
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1/2 tsp Cumin Powder
Juice of 1 Lemon
1 tbsp Olive Oil
Salt to taste

Coarse grind the chicken in a food processor. Do not grind it too fine.
Mix all the above ingredients till it is a homogenous mixture and allow it to marinate for few hours
Make kababs by taking a handful of the paste and patting it on flat kabab skewers. (Flat skewers are easier and the meat stays on without much drama)
Grill the kababs on a conventional grill or broil in an oven brushing with oil and turning over to make both sides evenly cooked.
Serve over a bed of onion, tomatoes with a slice of lemon

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Mutton cha Rassa (Maharashtrian Lamb Curry)

Mutton Rassa (Maharashtrian lamb curry) was probably the first food I knew I couldn't live without. Especially the way my mother makes it. My grandmother, my mother and all my aunts would make their own garam masala. Although my grandma has passed away, her memory still lives on every time I cook something as my garam masala still comes from home. I have had Mutton Rassa all over Pune, but only the Parsi restaurants do real justice to the Rassa part of it.

Although it has been 10 long years since I've been to Cafe Good Luck on Fergusson College Rd, I still remember the L shaped restaurant where time seems to have stood still. It has withstood many a communal riot that required reconstruction for other Parsi establishments. The entrance of Good Luck, the apex of the L, is at the corner of Bhandarkar Rd and Fergusson College Rd. One wing of the L extends into the dining area, the other is only for tea & pastry consumption. I remember the slightly bent old man who used to sit at the counter. He was a grumpy old man with a blue fly swatter who watched your every move. He didn’t quite know what year it was, but kept a watchful eye on the waiters making sure then don’t ‘favour’ their favourite customers of which there were many. An old, rickety Cinni fan from the 1950's, with most of the black paint chipped used to keep him cool. I don’t think it had been oiled since the 70’s either. My father would tell me that he was quite the dashing man when my father was a regular at Good Luck in his Fergusson days. Quasim his grandson, was my classmate at Fergusson College and from what I hear, is running Good Luck — and quite successfully, too. I have fond memories of dining at Good Luck with my father as he would order my mutton just the way I liked it. It was a dish only known as Mutton Double Fry. Your basic mutton curry, sautéed with onions, tomato and chili till the curry was reduced to a dry coarse paste, to be consumed with larger than life chapatis.

Most of the restaurants around the neighbourhood I grew up with have disappeared due to new construction and the so-called malls. Good Luck is still standing strong. Maybe someday I'll able to take my children to Good Luck and introduce them to the food three generations of their family have grown up on. Hopefully, it will happen before Cafe Good Luck is just a blip in the rear view mirror like Lucky, Cafe Sunrise, Poona Coffee House and Hotel Deepa.

I lb lamb cubed
2 large onions finely chopped
2 large tomatoes finely chopped
5 cloves of garlic crushed or 1 tsp paste
1 tsp ginger paste
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp turmeric powder
1 1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp salt (or according to taste)
3 cups water
1/2 cup oil

In a large pot heat oil on high and add ginger and garlic.
When the garlic starts to splatter add chopped onion
Once the onion browns on the edges, add tomato and stir
Allow to cook for 5 min
Then add chili, turmeric and garam masala
Allow to cook for a few minutes and add Lamb
Stir and allow to cook for a minute or two
Add water and mix well
Turn heat to medium and allow to boil till water reduces by 1/2
Keep cooking till meat is tender
Serve with Chapati or rice.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tup Sakhar Chapati

If you grew up in Pune you’d remember of a mildly annoying siren that would go off at 10:00 a.m. every day and last for a good 10 minutes. I never figured out what it was for, where it came from or if anyone was supposed to do anything about it. We just knew that it was there and we ignored it, much like the coloured ‘Terror Alert System" compliments of the Department of Homeland Security.

The one thing I can always remember about it though was that when the ‘bhonga’ (as it was called) would go off aayi would be making her dabba of chapatis for the day. And during the holidays my brother and I would sit cross-legged on the cold floor of our humble dining-table-less kitchen and wait for aayi to give us a hot chapati slathered with some ghee and sugar and rolled up on dented steel plates. After a generous helping of chapati rolls, all young members of the galli would then emerge from their respective homes. for a good day of galli cricket.

I have tried recreate that taste at home many, many times for myself, but somehow it just doesn’t taste that good in my quiet kitchen, on Pfaltzgraff china and a Heywood-Wakefield dining table.

2 cups Chapati Ata (Durum Wheat flour)
1 tsp Oil
¼ cup Milk
Tepid Water to knead the dough
3 tsp Ghee
1/2 cup Granulate Pure Cane Sugar

Knead into dough all the ingredients except Ghee and Sugar
Cover it with a wet cloth and place aside for an hour
Take a golf ball sized portion of the dough and roll it into a thin flat chapati
Dip a finger in oil and rub it over the top surface
Fold the chapati into half and then a quarter again.
Roll this quarter into a round chapati
Cook on a hot skillet

Place the hot, cooked chapati on a place
Rub ½ tsp of ghee and drizzle some sugar on it
Roll the chapati and serve hot.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


Like any big art school my alma mater gave India many successful artists, sculptors, architects and creative directors. Of course, it wasn’t enough to be at par with everyone else, so Abhinav Kala Mahavidyalaya gave us something no other art school has produced—the deadliest gang of serial killers in the history of Pune city. Jakkal, Sutar, Shah and Jagtap were students of the commercial arts stream, the same major that produced the lack luster career of yours truly. The four went on a killing spree for 14 months between Jan 1976 and March 1977. Being evil is one this, but being stupid and evil just isn’t a good trait to have. The four were finally apprehended as suspicions arose when the foursome went and inquired about the progress of the investigation at police stations one time too many. The first victim of the infamous foursome was Prakash Hegde, the son of the owner of a small hotel, Vishwa. Situated behind the college. Prakash’s murder was the only claim to fame for this otherwise mediocre hotel serving the usual Puneri fare mixed with some Udpi favourites and milkshakes. In my many lunchtime visits to Vishwa, I did happen to order the Thalipeeth, which wasn’t so popular, but actually quite good. Not many restaurants have Thalipeeth on their menu in spite of it being a hardcore Marathi food. Unfortunately, like Prakash, the Thalipeeth at Vishwa, too, met a premature end and was taken off the menu. It has been over 30 years since Prakash was murdered and nothing can make really this story have a positive end (besides the knowledge that his killers are sleeping in their graves). In memory of Prakash, my fellow alumni, whose restaurant gave me a few good college lunches, I dedicate this recipe.

3 cups dry Thalipeeth Bhajani (flour) Click here for recipe
1 Onion finely chopped
2 Chillis finely chopped
1/2 cup Coriander
1/2 tsp Chili powder
1 tsp Turmeric
3 tsp Butter
Water for kneading
Salt to taste
Oil for cooking

Knead all ingredients into dough
Cover with a wet cloth and place aside for an hour
Take a golf ball sized piece of dough and roll it into a pancake on a clean wet cloth or butter paper
Poke a few holes with your fingers
Heat a skillet and put rolled out pancake on the skillet
Drizzle oil on the pancake and through the holes
Cook both sides till golden brown and crisp.
Garnish with a little butter and serve with yoghurt and lasun chutney

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Egg Curry

Hostelites, especially males, living in the Deccan area were really lucky to have the Lucky restaurant. Situated in the prime location of Deccan Gymnkhana, between Hong Kong lane and the Champion sports shop, it proudly served most of the Fergusson, B.M.C.C and M.E.S Garware college students. Of course, it was a popular dining spot for families, too. The structure of the restaurant was very similar to Café Good Luck, the other Irani restaurant on the block. It was divided into two sections. One served tea and snacks. And the other was for dining and families. Dining at Lucky (or Good Luck for that matter) took you back into the sixties. Mostly because it hadn’t been redecorated since the sixties. The design of the Formica on the tables was a mere suggestion of what it may have looked like 3 decades ago. The surface of most tables was so worn out that there were huge black spots caused by wear and tear. There were areas of the walls with extensive water damage and the ones that didn’t were covered in calendars inevitably showing the wrong month, if not the year. Creaking fans that hadn’t been oiled for years would rotate so slowly that you could see the individual blades. The washbasins were a treat. The metal taps were inevitably chipped. (How does a metal tap get chipped?) The soap dish had, I kid you not, dish washing detergent powder and usually a squeezed out slice of lemon. Perhaps it’s because you needed something with real grease-cutting power with all the food they served. The service, however, was always good. Although I wasn’t a hostelite, I would frequent Lucky a lot. Sometimes I would get some tea and bread before college. The elderly gentleman who managed the counter and all the bakery products under it would put an extra dollop of butter on my thick, unevenly cut slices of sourdough bread. Maybe he felt sad for kids who stayed away from home and extra butter was his way of showing love. Lucky restaurant was a family dining room for many a student living away from their families. And for all its shortcomings, the food was really good; it was cheap; and it felt like home. I was really sad when I heard that Lucky was torn down a while back to make room for a shopping mall. The thought of future generations of Puneites going through life without the Lucky Restaurant is really sad. The place where I consumed countless cups of tea and mhaska-pav, biryanis and egg curries is now just a memory. I try to recreate the Lucky taste in my kitchen, but it just isn’t the same.

7 hard-boiled Eggs
2 large Onions shredded
1 cup Tomato Puree
1/2 cup coconut flakes
4 tsp chopped Coriander
1 tsp Chili Powder
1 tsp Turmeric Powder
3/4 Garam Masala
2 bay leaves
1 tsp crushed Garlic
1/2 tsp Ginger paste
4 tbsp Olive Oil
Salt to taste

Roast coconut flakes till slightly brown on the edges and place aside
Peel eggs, halve longitudinally and place aside
In a pot heat oil and add ginger, garlic and bay leaves
As they start to splatter, add onion and heat till it turns brown
Add roasted coconut and stir
Add the tomato paste and mix
Allow it to cook for a couple of minutes
Add coriander, chili, turmeric, salt and garam masala and allow it to cook for a few minutes
Take the yolk from one egg and mix with the sauce
Add one cup of water and allow it to simmer
Carefully fold in the egg halves into the sauce and allow to cook for a minute or two
Serve with bread or rice